Abstract

Investigating wild animals while minimizing human disturbance remains an important methodological challenge. When approached by a remote-operated vehicle (rover) which can be equipped to make radio-frequency identifications, wild penguins had significantly lower and shorter stress responses (determined by heart rate and behavior) than when approached by humans. Upon immobilization, the rover—unlike humans—did not disorganize colony structure, and stress rapidly ceased. Thus, rovers can reduce human disturbance of wild animals and the resulting scientific bias.

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Acknowledgements

This study was undertaken within Program 137 of the Institut Polaire Français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), with support from the French National Research Agency (A.N.R.) “PICASO” grant. We are very grateful to the mine-clearing services of the French Ministry of the Interior for the gift of a mine-clearing rover for preliminary tests. All technical developments were supported by Total Corporate Foundation. M. Brucker, N.C., J.C., F.C., B.F., R.G. and Y.L.M. were supported by the CNRS. C.L.B. and P.T. were supported by Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM). V.A.V. was supported by the AXA Research Fund. Y.L.M., C.L.B., P.T. and J.D.W. collaborated under the framework of the Laboratoire International Associé 647 BioSensib between the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (CNRS and University of Strasbourg) and the CSM.

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Author notes

    • Céline Le Bohec

    Present addresses: Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Université de Strasbourg, Laboratoire International Associé LIA-647 BioSensib (CSM-CNRS-UdS), Strasbourg, France, and CNRS, Unité Mixte de Recherche 7178, LIA-647 BioSensib, Strasbourg, France.

Affiliations

  1. Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Université de Strasbourg, Laboratoire International Associé LIA-647 BioSensib (CSM-CNRS-UdS), Strasbourg, France.

    • Yvon Le Maho
    • , Jason D Whittington
    • , Nicolas Hanuise
    • , Louise Pereira
    • , Matthieu Boureau
    • , Mathieu Brucker
    • , Nicolas Chatelain
    • , Julien Courtecuisse
    • , Francis Crenner
    • , Benjamin Friess
    • , Edith Grosbellet
    • , Laëtitia Kernaléguen
    • , Claire Saraux
    • , Nathanaël Vetter
    • , Vincent A Viblanc
    • , Bernard Thierry
    •  & René Groscolas
  2. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Unité Mixte de Recherche 7178, LIA-647 BioSensib, Strasbourg, France.

    • Yvon Le Maho
    • , Jason D Whittington
    • , Nicolas Hanuise
    • , Louise Pereira
    • , Matthieu Boureau
    • , Mathieu Brucker
    • , Nicolas Chatelain
    • , Julien Courtecuisse
    • , Francis Crenner
    • , Benjamin Friess
    • , Edith Grosbellet
    • , Laëtitia Kernaléguen
    • , Claire Saraux
    • , Nathanaël Vetter
    • , Vincent A Viblanc
    • , Bernard Thierry
    •  & René Groscolas
  3. Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM), LIA-647 BioSensib, Monaco.

    • Yvon Le Maho
    • , Jason D Whittington
    • , Pascale Tremblay
    •  & Céline Le Bohec
  4. Nordic Centre for Research on Marine Ecosystems and Resources under Climate Change, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

    • Jason D Whittington
  5. Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

    • Jason D Whittington
  6. John Downer Productions Ltd, Bristol, UK.

    • Frédérique Olivier
  7. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

    • Frédérique Olivier
  8. Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer, Sète, France.

    • Claire Saraux
  9. Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5158, Montpellier, France.

    • Vincent A Viblanc

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Contributions

Y.L.M., team leader of the IPEV project, designed and performed the study in the field, worked on the analyses and cowrote the paper; C.L.B., project co-leader, and J.D.W. worked on the analyses and cowrote the paper; N.H. and L.P. worked on the analyses and provided useful comments; technical developments pertaining to rover conception, development and construction were performed by M. Brucker, N.C., J.C., F.C. and B.F.; M. Boureau, L.K., E.G. and N.V. performed the study in the field and provided useful comments; R.G. suggested the use of HR monitoring to test the impact of approaching rovers, proposed a field test, performed some analyses and helped in revising the paper; B.T. helped in interpreting data within an ethological framework and in revising the paper; F.O. added useful modifications to the manuscript; V.A.V. and C.S. ran some preanalyses and greatly contributed in the paper's revision; P.T. participated in a prestudy on the field and added useful modifications to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yvon Le Maho or Céline Le Bohec.

Integrated supplementary information

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Text and Figures

    Supplementary Figure 1

Videos

  1. 1.

    King penguin circulating among incubating breeders

    Incubating king penguins are stationary, generally maintaining neighbors and birds in transit at a minimum distance determined by the reach of their beak and flippers.

  2. 2.

    Rover circulating among incubating breeders

    The reactions of incubating king penguins to the rover was similar in magnitude to their reactions to conspecifics and ceased as soon as the rover stopped moving.

  3. 3.

    Rover approaching southern elephant seals on a beach

    Resting southern elephant seals let the rover approach to within contact distances to their heads and also to their tails, where they are usually tagged, with no visible disturbance.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.3173

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